This story was first written and published by The Roar.
This Saturday when the NSW Breakers play the Western Fury in the WNCL Final, the Fury will feature in their first final in 18 years, while incredibly, the Breakers will be playing in their 22nd WNCL final, looking to claim their 19th title.
But for one special woman – Alex Blackwell – it will be her last appearance in Breakers Blue and the last time she captains her state after she announced her retirement from international and state cricket earlier this week after 16 years at an elite level.
The outpouring of emotion has been incredible to watch. It has come from people she has played with, people she has played against and people she has never met.
Recognition has come from all corners of the globe – with people expressing their pride in what she has achieved, for her fierce advocacy for the women’s game and plenty expressing their gratitude for how she has influenced their careers – whether through her captaincy, her coaching or simply by being on the field as one of their heroes.
Alex has truly been a pioneer in the game becoming one of the first women to become fully professional after she quit her job as a genetic counsellor in 2015 to pursue cricket.
Alex was there during the years where women were not professional and where tremendous sacrifice had to made just for her to be able to play the sport she loved.
Where to start with the accolades.
It’s hard to imagine the Australian Women’s cricket team without Alex there because she has been a constant for the last 14 years.
During those 14 years she has played 251 games, making her the most capped female player Australia has ever produced.
Alex has scored over 5000 runs at an international level, been part of an Ashes-winning squad several times and captained her country on 33 occasions including leading the Southern Stars to a World T20 win.
Alex was also a prolific run scorer. During her career she has made 5250 international runs. 444 of those runs were scored in Test matches, 3492 in ODIs and 1314 in T20s where she is one of only seven Australians to have scored more than 1000 runs in the format.
At a state level, she has won 13 WNCL titles with the Breakers and is the Breakers’ leading run scorer with 4764 runs in 138 games with 11 centuries.
The numbers will always be impressive, but what Alex will always be remembered for most of all is in her role as a captain and mentor for so many women now playing cricket.
Women like Mikayla Hinkley who has idolised Alex since she was 11 years old and cites her as one of the reason she wanted to play for the Breakers, or Lauren Cheatle who struggles to pick just one memory featuring Alex (because there were so many) or Maisy Gibson who has not only been captained by Alex at a state level but in the WBBL too.
All cite her wisdom, generosity and determination as defining traits and not only call her their captain, but their mate too.
Alex is also the woman who made me fall in love with women’s cricket.
Before the summer of the inaugural WBBL, my knowledge of women’s cricket extended to the name of Australia’s Women’s Cricket team – the Southern Stars – and that there was a woman in that team named Ellyse Perry who was a dual international who had also represented her country in football.
By the end of the summer, Alex, who was the then vice-captain of the Southern Stars and captain of my team, the Sydney Thunder had become a very familiar face to me.
She was a right-handed batter who often came in to bat third or fourth for the Thunder. She made 410 runs during that first summer, which was the fourth most in the competition.
She was impressive on the field, but more than that, during that summer I learnt about how passionate she was about women’s cricket and the women in the squad she was fortunate enough to lead to victory in the WBBL Final.
Coach Jo Broadbent remembers Alex that night too, with the trophy slung over her shoulder like a handbag with a giant smile on her face.
It was not long after that, that I met Alex for the first time.
It was at a charity function. I saw her coming up behind me on the elevator and walked right up to her and said “Alex, I am such a big fan. I support the Sydney Thunder and you have been amazing this summer.”
The woman I spoke to grinned at me and said “Thank you so much, but I’m not Alex, that’s Alex,” she said, pointing behind her.
I turned around and there was someone else who looked just like Alex Blackwell. That was the night that I learnt that Alex has a twin sister named Kate and that Alex and Kate were the first identical twins to represent Australia in cricket.
It was a mistake I never made again – but since then, my love for women’s cricket has grown and it will take a while before I stop looking for Alex on the field and start looking for her in the stands instead.
But back to this weekend.
The Breakers will take on the Fury from 10am this Saturday morning at Blacktown International Sports Park Oval 2.
Entry is free and many women who have been selected for the Australian Women’s Cricket teams upcoming tour of India will be playing including Ellyse Perry, Rachael Haynes, Elyse Villani, Alyssa Healy, Nicole Bolton, Naomi Stalenberg and Nicola Carey.
I almost included Alex Blackwell in that list, simply because she has always been there.
Thank you Alex for your outstanding contribution to women’s cricket. You were the woman that made me fall in love with women’s cricket and it has been a pleasure to watch you represent your state and country with such pride.
Here’s to many more years of having you involved in the game you love so much and the game that loved you right back.